Bringing furniture making back home again

Charlotte ObserverAugust 30, 2011 

LINCOLNTON — The idea came to Bruce Cochrane in China: Why not get back into furniture manufacturing?

Five generations of his family had been in the business, but gave it up in 1996 as the U.S. industry tanked and jobs moved to Asia.

Cochrane spent much of his time in China and Vietnam as a consultant for U.S. furniture makers. Over the years he noticed a shift: Wages rose for Chinese factory workers and labor shortages cropped up because there aren't enough people for all the jobs available.

Along with that came the increase in transportation costs and the Chinese demand for Western products.

Cochrane felt the time was right to bring furniture manufacturing jobs back to the United States. He recently formed Lincolnton Furniture, a new partnership that will make middle- to higher-priced solid wood bedroom and casual dining room furniture. The products will be turned out in a sprawling Lincolnton factory formerly occupied by Cochrane Furniture.

The state-of-the-art operation represents a $5 million investment and will eventually hire 175 people. Production begins in December, with a workforce sprinkled with former Cochrane Furniture employees.

By keeping overhead down and using high-tech, multipurpose machines, Bruce Cochrane is betting that made-in-America furniture can compete against lower-cost products from Asia.

"Some people have said I was crazy," said Cochrane, 59. "But we've got a good business plan and there are decades of experience among all of our managers and employees. I've got a great deal of confidence in this. I think the people we hire will make it successful."

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